For more than 100 years, dark rides have been the epitome of theme park entertainment, utilizing special effects encompassed in a theatrical-like art form to create imaginative scenes that immerse guests into another world. Dark rides have traditionally been attractions in which riders journey through artificially illuminated scenes tied together by a common theme or narrative, which often facilitate a sense of escapism. During the 19th century, amusement rides like an old mill chute ride, where two riders in a boat floated through a man-made canal and exited the building down a steep waterslide, was a precursor to the dark rides and attractions we experience today.
The history of the dark ride began around 1887 where The Scenic Railway, an early roller coaster installed at Atlantic Beach, New Jersey utilized dark tunnels laden with special effects to tell short narrative vignettes. Because the cost of construction for rides like the Old Mill water ride were so high, Leon Cassidy and Marvin Rempfer, two partners of the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, decided to develop a more cost-friendly ride that still incorporated the dark atmosphere. The pair debuted a “dry” ride in 1928 and named their company The Pretzel Amusement Ride Company because a rider ones said that “It felt like I was turned and twisted like a Pretzel,” referring to the way the track moved throughout the building.
As the technology evolved, cars would trigger switches that would light scenes, and play music or sound effects. To keep the front end of the Pretzel car on the track, 40-pound cast iron “pretzels” were incorporated into the design of the cars, and over the course of several years, Pretzel became one of the most popular rides at amusement parks throughout the country. These types of rides would be described as “the most popular and famous amusement device in the world, that created a world of illusions, thrills, and escape that looked forward to another empire of make believe, the magic of cinema.”
When Disneyland opened in 1955, it was considered a turning point for amusement parks throughout America. It not only integrated a secure, clean space for families to enjoy the Disney brand that they had previously consumed through films and television, but it also evolved the dark ride itself from incorporating a loose theme to telling stories. The rides focused on storytelling techniques and presented popular animated films like Snow White, Dumbo, and Alice in Wonderland in a whole new way.
As we continually adapted to new and diverse technologies, dark rides have incorporated these technological changes to evolve rides from the mill chute of decades past into immersive narratives and experiences that offer guests sensorial experiences. The development and design of dark rides often combine new technological trends with storytelling and artistic elements, not only to immerse guests into a narrative, but also to facilitate escapism.
Walt Disney World, whose creativity and imagination is best illustrated through its immersive and narrative dark rides, throws guests right into the stories of their most memorable films and stories with attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight, the Haunted Mansion, Under The Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more. Shop discount Disney tickets to experience the magic and the stories that Disney brings to life through their imaginative dark rides.